As I was on a tight budget while travelling in Japan, I wanted to save money on accommodation while experiencing the well-known Japanese hospitality.
So here’s my TOP 5 of my favourite (cheap) Japanese accommodations:
THE POSTCROSSING PEN PAL
It was actually the main reason of me coming to Japan. I wanted to meet in real life my pen pal Noriko. Noriko is a 40 something housewife I was writing postcards to thanks to Postcrossing since August/September 2014. She’s dreaming of France, I’m dreaming of Japan. Our postcards exchanges are sincere, open and intimate. That’s when she invited me to come over that this Japan plan is quietly forming into my mind. And actually why not? That’s the BEST decision I’ve ever made.
Noriko welcomed me with open arms, and thousand smiles. She was my second Mum during my stay, my Japanese Mom. I was part of the family while I was staying with her and her husband Tomoaki, her daughter Keiko and her son Masashi. She took me to visit some temples, as well as the Matsumoto Castle, Ghibli & Sailor Moon shops. She invited me to spend one night in an Onsen Ryokan and even cooked me a bento to take with me for my trip from Matsumoto to Kyoto… That was a unique Japanese experience.
It was surely the best accommodation I could ever dream of, a true immersion into the daily life of a Japanese family.
THE ONSEN RYOKAN
This one is a bit pricey.
But I had the chance to spend the night without spending any money (an extraordinary gift from Noriko) and it was an amazing experience. A Ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn, with tatami, futons and delicious meals. An Onsen Ryokan is the same with natural hot pools coming right from the mountain.
Here’s my detailed experience about the Onsen Ryokan.
I should warn you, Couchsurfing is not very usual in Japan and there are loads more requests than available hosts. If you want to use Couchsurfing while in Japan, you’d better try to book early, like two or three months ahead, and write at least 5 requests a day. Most of your requests will remain unanswered, though, this is why you shouldn’t wait for answers and keep looking.
But once you’ve found a host, an amazing adventure awaits:
- Either you’d be hosted by an expat, who will give you precious tips on how to survive in Japan, like how to use public transports, where you should eat, etc. When I was hosted by Agata, I spent a really nice evening in an izakaya, a traditional Japanese restaurant, with some other Coushsurfers from Poland, and our happy gang got along pretty well immediately. Agata also took me to the karaoke!
- Either you’d be hosted by a local, a Japanese, and then Hurrah!, you’ll have a TRUE and UNIQUE Japanese experience. Natsuki hosted me on my last night in Kyoto, in her share house and I had the chance to enjoy her so Japanese teenager room (which was painted in this cutie pink colour) and her cooking talents.
I started hosting Couchsurfers in Strasbourg since March 2015 and the experience was really worth it. I’ve met through Couchsurfing so many inspiring people and I can even call some of them friends even though we only spent one or two nights together… That’s Couchsurfing magic! That’s a good way to travel on a budget but it’s also very enlightening on a human level.
THE BACKPACKER HOSTEL
Since I couldn’t find any Couchsurfing host for my first night in Kyoto, I chose a backpacker hostel. I wanted to try the capsule hotel so badly but everything was already booked.
I chose the K’s House Kyoto, a nice hostel with an English speaking staff. I found myself in a room with two Taiwanese girls on holidays, some clean and tidy bathrooms and showers, as well as free shampoo, soap and towels (Japan is magic for the hospitality!)
On my way to the K’s House, bearing Monster with pain, I met two friends spending a night at the same hostel. They offered me to guide me there and spend the day with them. They were planning to go to the Fushimi Inari Jinja- that’s handy, I was planning to do the same.
That’s the hostel magic. As soon as I arrived I got friends for the day to come. An Australia girl living in Indonesia and a New Zealander girl living in Australia. The hostel is always a good way to meet other travellers, no matter their age, their origins or their social class. A kitchen in a hostel in always a stunning melting pot.
THE WEIRD & CHEAP HOTEL
This is like the lottery here… But since it’s Japan, it would be clean, tidy and you will have anything you need to wash yourself and smell good (free soap, free shampoo, free conditioner, a toothbrush, a hair brush, etc.) anyway.
I found myself in a sort of spa hotel in Shinjuku, I think it was also a capsule hotel but the night in a dorm was less expensive. I had nothing to lose, it was 3 in the morning anyway and I had nowhere to go, so…
It was worth the try, even though it felt very weird to lie down on the ground in the middle of about twenty other women, on a kind of leather futon which was not comfy at all. But since it was also a spa hotel, I can guarantee you that the 3:30 A.M bubble bath, the one that just follows a chaotic arrival at Haneda airport and several walks around Shinjuku (I was lost indeed) with Monster killing my shoulders, well, that bath was pure heaven.
Anyway, if you’d like a unique and cheap experience in Japan, it’s better to use Couchsurfing and try to sleep at a local’s place!
The experience will be unforgettable for sure!